Rabbit-Holes and Mystics

You know that rabbit-hole? At the moment I’m reading Saint John of the Cross’ The Ascent of Mount Carmel, to be followed by these, grounding for continuing to read Maria Gabriela Llansol’s Geography of Rebels trilogy.

There’s a longer list I’m contemplating that includes social histories by Hartmut Kaelble and Béla Tomka, Henry Suso’s The Exemplar and Thomas Müntzer’s writing.

Indirectly I’ve also become drawn to Simone Weil recently, a strange and astonishing woman who seems to be almost the quintessential twentieth century mystic, comparable with Thomas Merton. If you can recommend a good biography (there are so many) please do so in comments. Or have any recommendations of medieval mystics and/or good social histories that are worth reading.

20 thoughts on “Rabbit-Holes and Mystics

  1. It’s funny you should mention Weil. I was looking for something to fill the void now that I’ve finished Stach and I just picked up her Iliad essay. It is very enjoyable. I think you might have even recommended it to me. Can’t quite recall.

  2. The classic reference work on (Christian) mystics is Bernard McGinn’s 6 (at last count) volume history, collectively entitled THE PRESENCE OF GOD. It’s not something to read straight through (woe is me, I tried), but worth keeping on hand to consult relevant chapters and contextualizing summaries for any study of individual mystics. Unlike the many social histories of mysticism, it presents an “inner” interpretation, a catholic theologian’s accounting and analysis, which even for an unbeliever like myself is a testimony important to an appreciation of the tradition. I recommend dipping into it and at least reading the introduction to the first volume.

  3. Thank you for the picture of your books!I had never heard of the Beguines. And that started me on a whole Wikipedia adventure that went through Meister Eckhart,
    To Schopenhauer to the theosophical society.

    Thanks for that little excursion of education education!

  4. You should check out Hildegard of Bingen; In Our Time covered her on one of their podcasts. Barbara Newman’s Voice of the Living Light is a good collection of essays about her. Margery Kempe is another mystic, and In Our Time covered her, too. Check out The Book of Margery Kempe (I studied her in college). Additionally, Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena are female religious figures (The Life of Saint Teresa by Herself and the Dialogues are their respective books). Cities of Ladies is a scholarly history of the Beguines that I own. Caroline Walker Bynum is a very well-respected scholar of medieval Christianity. Check out her book length essay, Christian Materiality. And her book Jesus as Mother (it is not a feminist theology book–so the title is misleading) is fabulous. I am very interested in medieval Christianity, and I read a lot in this area. I hope this is along the lines of what you are looking for.

    • I just thought of a few other mystics/medieval Christians to look into: Bernard of Clairvaux (the selected works with an introduction by Leclercq); Bonaventure; and Julian of Norwich. And then The Love of Learning and the Desire for God by Leclercq is a classic. (This covers the western Christians with the exception of Augustine and then you have the Eastern ones: Chrysostom, Gregory of Nazianus and Gregory of Nyssa, and others). Okay this is probably more than you want to know!

    • Thanks very much, such a rich reading list. I know Hildegard of Bingen’s music very well. These are all excellent suggestions that I’ll add to my reading list.

  5. Just to offer a twist of a kind: one contemporary poet who has — I think it’s somewhat safe to say — found a lot in the works of Simone Weil is Ellen Hinsey; another poet who had (or has) a fair amount of interest in mystic thought is Gjertrud Schnackenberg…now, although not of the medieval period, Angelus Silesius might be of interest to you (though I dont know if much or even any of his work has been translated)

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